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Sacred Harp/Shape-Note Singing

Kiri Miller, Director

Sacred Harp singing is a nondenominational, four-part, unaccompanied tradition of vernacular hymnody associated with the American shape-note tunebook The Sacred Harp. This is a participatory tradition, not a performance tradition. There are no rehearsals leading up to concerts. Instead, at each meeting the singers take turns choosing tunes from the book and standing to lead them. Students will learn to sight-sing shape-note notation (a system in which shaped noteheads are associated with solfege syllables), a practice which should improve their sight-singing in other contexts. They will also learn how to lead tunes in the Southern traditional style (a distinctive form of choral conducting) and how to set the pitch for tunes without the use of a keying instrument. Elements of music history will be built into the course; the repertoire in the tunebook now stretches from the 18th to the 20th century, and most of the hymn texts are 18th-century British sacred poetry. We will also spend some time on the relationship between oral and written traditions; students will listen to historical recordings from different regions so as to learn traditional ornamentation styles and understand when it is appropriate to deviate from the notated music in the tunebook.

The singing convenes in Steinert 105 on Thursdays, 5-7 p.m., during Brown's fall and spring semesters. Contact Kiri Miller for more information.